I don’t know how many of my readers are also writers, but on the off-chance that any of you are. Here’s a piece of advice I got from a writing instructor and only recently started to take to heart.
Lose your iPod.
I’m not saying that you should forgo all those sweet tunes forever, but instead of spending all that time sonically anesthetized, try to actually listen to the world around you. You never know what you’ll pick up once you turn on your attention to the world.
This can be difficult, I know. For the past month or so I’ve been trying to keep myself from defaulting to music while walking anywhere. Even then I find myself chattering to myself madly about various bits of plot, characters, or ideas. This isn’t a bad thing at all, but if the idea is to pay attention then you have to actually pay it. One way that I’ve found is asking myself a few questions: What did that mother just say to her son? What color would you say that car is? (Champagne? Pfft. Champagne is not a color.) Who is that incredibly hot sweaty guy in the bike shorts?
I just read an essay by Chuck Wendig about being a writer and he mentioned something that made a lot of sense to me. He said that essentially writers are “idea antennae” and we are almost always intercepting some idea or other. I think that’s why it’s so easy for some of us to slip into periods of non-attention, it’s almost a reprieve from the endless flood. Still, I think this kind of attention is important for building more realized worlds, characters, and situations.
A short example: I was once at the ICA in Boston (an awesome museum btw) and I was watching a video installation when a kid came up with his dad. They watched the video for a bit and the kid asked: “Daddy, is that man a thief?” to which dad answered, “no, he’s an artist.” That exchange has stuck with me since and I wouldn’t have been aware of it if I had been checked out at the time.
So the next time you venture out, tuning into the world around you instead of that NPR feed. Maybe you’ll get something out of it.